The current crisis in some Middle East nations, especially Syria, has triggered mass movement of people fleeing for safety. Since 2015, large groups of these refugees have been undertaking a long and hazardous journey to enter Europe and seek asylum.
Operation Mobilization (OM) is an interdenominational organization that works in over 110 countries and has partnered with churches in countries affected by the European refugee crisis for many years. They come alongside many of these local congregations and enable them to respond to the needs of the refugees. As churches reach out in this crisis, Jesus’ love through them becomes visible not only to the refugees but also to the local society and government. These are some of the stories that have been reported by OM-Europe from the past year.
Greece – Lesbos
“It seems that in the western part of Europe, and even in some volunteers, there’s a fear, a mentality that the people are just going to be lazy. But they’re not.”
One example is of six boys who excitedly ran over to hug Hein (an OM worker) in the camp the morning after he’d helped them exit their boat. When they saw that Hein and a few other workers had to set up tents at the camp, they volunteered to assist. “Without their help, we would have never been able to do it,” Hein said.
Another group of young men walking down a particularly bad stretch of road one afternoon, still wearing the silvery foil emergency blankets given upon their arrival, noticed a photojournalist whose car was stuck in the mud. Together, they pushed her out of the rut.
Other times in the camp, Hein remembered refugees asking him for trash bags so they could help clean the site. “A lot of them are hard workers,” he said.
A handful have also connected with him personally and spiritually. Once, Hein talked to several men who said they were from Damascus, Syria.
“Oh, as Christians, we read a lot about Damascus in our Bible,” he said. “What? You know about Damascus from your Bible?” they asked. “What does the Bible say about Damascus?”
Hein told them about Jesus, about Paul, about the church in Antioch and about Paul’s journey to Greece. “They’re really fascinated by this, and I say, ‘Would you be interested in reading this if you had a Bible?’” “Yeah, really,” one of the guys responded. “Would you mind if I bring you a Bible?” Hein asked. “Is it in English?” “No, it’s in Arabic.”
Overhearing the conversation, another man asked for a Bible as well. And when Hein returned with the first two, a third Syrian also asked for a Bible. “Is this Matthew, Mark, Luke and John?” the third man wanted to know. “No, this is the entire New Testament, the entire Injil,” Hein said. “Thank you very much.”
Greece - Athens
“I see a lot of suffering. But one thing really, really affected my view about why we do what we do. When the first camp opened, we went in and started helping out. We’re talking about a thousand people overnight, total chaos. We were extremely overwhelmed by the numbers.
I was sitting outside the stadium and a mother walked out with a baby who was screaming in agonizing pain. Through an Afghan Christian who translated, we found out that the baby was seriously ill. We told the mother that we could bring her to the hospital. The mayor gave us permission and we took her and the baby to the hospital with our personal car. The next day we came to pick them up. When we walked into the room this lady completely lit up. She was so amazed that a total stranger took them to the hospital and came back to take them back. And they didn’t need to do anything.
But, what we did was stupid in a sense. We didn’t realize that there was a husband and two other kids. They came out looking for the mother and thought they’d lost their family. When the husband saw us and his wife and baby coming back, he ran up to us and thanked us. They were so grateful and the baby was perfectly fine.
That was when the Lord really spoke to me. When we look at the crowd, we are overwhelmed and forget about the individuals that make up the crowd. We should really try to see individuals. If we focus on the individual, we can impact at least one person in the crowd. That helped me a lot to not get overwhelmed. I don’t want to look at a crowd, but focus on at least one person in the crowd.”
A few weeks before Christmas, OM Macedonia started running a soup kitchen in the camp. The soup is freshly made in a restaurant in Gevgeljia. “The refugees love it, especially on a cold morning,” OM Macedonia leader Jacek Duda said.
The number of meals served has increased from 200 up to 500 daily, but some days it’s not enough for everyone. “We had to send so many hungry people away,” Jacek lamented. “Our camp is at the end of its capacity. People are freezing. Some have to sleep outside as there is no place in the tents anymore. This is a very sad and heartbreaking situation.”
On December 24th and 25th, the team organized a Christmas special with sweets, cookies, hot chocolate, milk tea, and Christmas packages from Samaritans Purse. “We even had a tree,” said Jacek. “We spread some joy and shared God’s love to the people passing through our camp.” The team members always try to show love and respect to the refugees. “Sometimes we have the opportunity to share the Good News and pray with some people,” he shared.
Montenegro and Serbia - Šid
One man’s refugee journey from Sudan to the Netherlands last year took him across the Serbian border at Šid. This man, Mahmood*, has not forgotten God’s presence transforming the atmosphere, in a refreshment tent OM helped to run. Volker of OM Montenegro described the scene, last October:
"Can you imagine? Bread with jam at midnight; Psalm 23 being translated out loud into Farsi; prayer for a Kurdish Christian; an Iraqi girl singing “Father Jacob” in Arabic; parents dancing for us; volunteers worshiping in front of Afghans and Iraqis, who were getting very excited. If you can picture this, then you know that there is hope in the worst situation—at a dark border in Serbia while just a few volunteers feed hundreds of people. In moments like this you feel and see God’s peace come over suffering people.
It’s amazing to see the difference in the crowd because of the worship music. People are visibly uplifted. For a few minutes it becomes more of a festival than a horror journey. The worship music has had a big impact on other volunteers working here too.”
Mahmood was struck by the atmosphere, and carried the memory of this place with him to The Netherlands. Now, fast-forward to a blog post last month, by Robert Strong* from OM Netherlands:
“We have a walk-in for refugees in our church here in Holland. Every Tuesday my wife and I go there, talking with refugees from mostly Syria but also other places. Earlier this year, a man from Darfur (Sudan) walked in. His name was Mahmood. We had a very good conversation and gave him a Bible. Today Mahmood attended church for the first time. After church, he accepted an invitation to our home.
I asked Mahmood about his journey to the Netherlands, and he described the route he’d taken. A few months ago he had travelled through Šid in Serbia. When I heard that, I showed him a photo of the tent OM is running. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I know that place. That is where the Christians served us coffee and tea and where they sang beautiful songs with us. That was a happy place!’”